A brief history of New Year’s Eve

January 1 dawned little different than the day before. Congress was still acting like a bunch of spoiled children. It was still cold and snowy outside. And a hot cup of coffee was still a joy.

My wife and I actually saw Baby New Year make his entrance last week. We traditionally get together with friends, this year in Story City. The food and conversation were excellent and we were surprised when we looked at the clock and saw it was already 11:30 p.m. It’s always difficult to say good-bye to old friends so it was nearly midnight before we left and nearly 1 a.m. before we got to bed.

My first memory of the significance of New Year’s Day goes back to when I realized I had to start writing the date as 1956 rather than 1955. My parents did not party on New Year’s Eve in those days nor did their children until we were teenagers.

One of my high school classmates hosted a New Year’s Eve party at her home for several years. It was pretty innocent as teen parties go. We ate a lot, consumed (nonalcoholic) beverages and played games.

Do you remember the Pass the Grapefruit game? I do. You held a grapefruit to your shoulder with your head and then passed it on to the next person (a member of the opposite sex) without using your hands. I know it sounds like a silly game but a teenage boy in the 1960s got his physical contact however he could.

Our classmate’s New Year’s Eve parties continued a few years after high school. One of those post-high school years I was looking forward to the party in spite of a bad head cold. Head colds are miserable for everyone, but especially for folks who depend on their voice for a living.

At the radio station on New Year’s Eve day I popped over-the-counter cold pills throughout the day and kept my voice smooth with regular shots of elixir terpin hydrate.

Until it was banned by the FDA in the 1990s, terpin hydrate was an expectorant that had a side benefit of smoothing out scratchy voices. It was made from oil of turpentine and other natural ingredients but it contained codeine so you had to sign to buy it at the pharmacy.

I had no idea that it was imprudent to self-medicate with cold pills and terpin hydrate at the same time. I spent that New Year’s Eve on the potty instead of at the party!

As newlyweds my wife and I joined her sister and husband for a New Year’s Eve on the town in Ames. We had no plans; just figured we’d find something to do when we got there.

My brother-in-law said there would be a band at a well-known club in Ames. When we entered the place we discovered there was a cover charge, which didn’t seem unusual for a New Year’s Eve. We could not hear the details over the loud music, but dutifully paid the cover charge and found a table.

Turns out the cover charge was for a go-go dancer, a popular form of bar entertainment in those days. The go-go girl was no surprise but the fact that she danced topless was. I am the last person in the world who should be talking about looking good (almost) naked, but this dancer definitely did not.

Our wives wanted to leave, but my brother-in-law and I had spent good money to get in so we stuck around for a dance or two.

After a short time watching (almost) naked ugly shake, we went to a movie.

When kids arrived we found more wholesome ways to welcome the New Year. For several years friends with kids the same age as ours got together for the evening. The kids got a kick out of staying up until midnight but quickly fell asleep after the party ended. So did their parents.

There’s no grapefruit passing these days nor terpin hydrate or even unattractive go-go girls. Just an evening of pleasant conversation, good eating and friendships renewed. And the party usually doesn’t go much past 11 p.m.

To be honest, I’m surprised we made it to 1 a.m. this year!